And the Oscar Goes To…Monument Valley

Posted on February 10, 2017 by Kimberly Roblin in

With the 89th Academy Awards just a few weeks away, I want to make the case for an Oscar long overdue. I don’t believe in participation trophies. Not everyone can win or should. I’m talking legitimate, merit-based recognition. Not for an actor, a writer, or composer. Not even for a person, but for a place—Monument Valley.

To acknowledge her achievement would be unprecedented, but not impossible. There are 34 pages of official Academy rules (#redtape, #redcarpet), but nowhere does it stipulate the nature of a nominee. Instead it specifies requirements for each category and award, and the Honorary Oscar intrigues me most. Previous winners include individuals, but also Eastman Kodak, Warner Brothers, The Museum of Modern Art Film Library, The National Endowment for the Arts, and even Bausch & Lomb. Yep, the optical company. All recognized for their exceptional contributions to motion picture arts. If that’s the litmus test, let’s see how Monument Valley performs.

She has more in common with actors than you might imagine. Her age is difficult to pinpoint. She can be challenging on set—unpredictable and prone to violent outbursts of weather. She often steals the scene, inherently, not intentionally. The camera loves her, and she inspires and excites with her singular beauty and charm. Even one of Hollywood’s most critical directors, John Ford, fell for her. My favorite location is Monument Valley, he said. It has rivers, mountains, plains, desert, everything the land can offer. I feel at peace here. I have been all over the world, but I consider this the most complete, beautiful, and peaceful place on Earth.



Natani Nez. John Ford on the set of Cheyenne Autumn. Monument Valley, Utah, 1964. John R. Hamilton/John Wayne Enterprises.


Together, they made history. She appeared in ten of his films, starting with the 1939 picture, Stagecoach. Her character had no lines or name, but it mattered little. Considered by many to be the first true Western, it propelled her and John Wayne to stardom. For nearly three decades she worked with Ford and Wayne, and the trio established a legacy synonymous with the American West. Ford filmed it. Wayne personified it, and Monument Valley was it. She remains so today. Her relatively short filmography is a testament to her power. She didn’t need 100 movies to shape American and international perceptions of the West. Through film she helped define not only a genre, but also a region, an idea, and identity. Her contributions to motion picture arts are not exceptional. They are epic.


Ethan Edwards. John Wayne on the set of The Searchers. Monument Valley, Arizona-Utah, 1956. John R. Hamilton/John Wayne Enterprises.



See Monument Valley and 23 past Oscar winners and nominees in our current exhibition, Hollywood and the American West. You might also see her zipping around the city on Museum vehicles.

Lunch Break. On the set of Cheyenne Autumn. Monument Valley, Utah, 1964. John R. Hamilton/John Wayne Enterprises.


Ritters. Set of Cheyenne Autumn. Monument Valley, Arizona, 1964. John R. Hamilton/John Wayne Enterprises.



About Kimberly

Kimberly Roblin is Curator of Archival and Photographic Collections at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. For the native Oklahoman, sharing western history through research, exhibitions, and publications is much more than business. It’s personal.